Earlier this week, I happened upon Aqua’s blog, Vicarious Therapy. Aqua also has chronic Major Depressive Disorder, and she posted about “the angst” she feels because she doesn’t have paid employment. (What a great word for it, angst.)

In my last post, I mentioned that I feel pressure (from myself? I guess so) to be productive. In the context of naps, the definition of productive is much wider than it is in the context of my life as a whole. Or, to say it another way, my definition of “working” is quite specific. I was happy to learn that someone else feels similar to the way that I do about working. This is an excerpt from Aqua’s post:

My definition of working is much more narrow. To me “working” is employment.

I am stressed because I don’t think I am ready for work, but I want to have a job. I am stressed because I feel okay and then I feel awful. Somehow, someway I NEED to get working. I feel so guilty when I see there are people much more ill than me working. I feel like I am not trying hard enough.

(Sorry, I can’t seem to get the formatting to work the way I want it to.)

And then, in the comments section, Aqua wrote:

…Paid Employment was a sign of moral goodness or something like that.

I can see that others who are unable to work, for whatever reason are beautiful and whole, and that “moral” has nothing to do with whether you are employed or not.

I cannot accept that I am a good person without working. I keep thinking I am using resources others need, or I am not so sick that I cannot work, or that I’m lazy, or evil for not working my fair share. I don’t know if I can ever get past those judgements about my non-working self.

I am quoting so much because it truly feels to me like Aqua is speaking my words. Since my breakdown in 2000, I have spent almost the entire time feeling like I’m not cutting it because I’m not working. (Also, most of my words here are words that I left in comments at Aqua’s post.)

I come from a family where a key piece of a person’s value comes from being productive in employment. I have tried to go back to work part-time, and it was a mistake. So, while I know in my head that I need to just look after myself and leave the question of work until some undetermined time in the future, I still agonize over the fact that I am not working in a paying job.

(Even though I do quite a lot of volunteering, it “doesn’t count”.)

My new psychiatrist has told me that I should not go back to “work” for at least a year, and at that time, we’ll talk about it. He has no problem asserting that I should be concentrating on the task of getting myself well, and that I shouldn’t even be thinking about a job for at least a year.

Still, I feel like I’m not being “productive”… I know I have to change my definitions to value the very hard things that I’m doing, but it’s tremendously difficult.

Then in comes the moral judgement attached to paid employment (in my belief system). If I’m not working, I’m not being a “good” person. And I can’t seem to get rid of those feelings, even though I, too, look at others and see them as wonderful and worthwhile. I do not judge them for being employed or not. When I’m looking at other people, the value of that person has absolutely nothing to do with whether they are in a paid position or not. But I don’t seem to be able to flip that lens back on myself.

I also ruminate a lot about not being sick enough to justify my disability benefits, about taking resources that could go to someone who is worse off than I am, about being “bad” or “evil” because I am not working in paid employment, about being lazy and/or not trying hard enough to get well… And again, like Aqua, I see others that I think are as sick, or sicker, than I am who are working; holy horses, how can I be a good person when I’m just sitting around and those individuals are working?

It was a wonder to find someone who struggles with the same issue that I do. I wish neither of us had this mental paradigm that leads us to so many negative thoughts about ourselves, but it is comforting to know that I’m not the nly one.

If anyone out there has similar beliefs, I encourage you to go to Aqua’s post and read the comments. I’ve bookmarked them because they totally apply to me, and I need to re-read them again and again to help me change my own thinking.

If you feel like sharing about your own beliefs about work and worth, please leave a comment!